Bronze Age Chinese Translations in 2014

By Lucas Klein, published

What is Chinese Literature?

As noted earlier, 2014 produced a "bumper crop" of Chinese literature translations in English, but almost all the titles listed are of contemporary fiction and poetry by living or recently deceased writers (and at least one of those titles won't be released until sometime in 2015).*

Yet 2014 also saw the publication of some very significant bronze age works. While China may not have the five thousand-year history the cultural nationalists claim for it, its written history does extend about three thousand years, with texts from that era serving as reference for intellectuals and underpinning longstanding habits of belief. Three of those texts are now available in major new English translations:

1 The Book of Master Mo, translated by Ian Johnston (Penguin Classics) (this is an updated republication of the Chinese University Press)

2 Xunzi: The Complete Text, translated by Eric L. Hutton (Princeton University Press)

3 The I Ching: The Essential Translation of the Ancient Chinese Oracle and Book of Wisdom, translated by John Minford (Penguin)

I look forward to reading them all, and finally learning how to live!

* The exceptions are Li Shangyin (c. 813–858) and "Stonehouse," or Shih-wu (1272–1352); Qiu Miaojin is the recently deceased, having committed suicide in 1995. It's my translation of the poetry of Mang Ke that will be released in '15.


# 1.   

Thanks for the Mang Ke date, Lucas, I have corrected in the 'Bumper Crop' post. The Mang Ke book was listed in at least one place as coming out in 2014, hence its place on the list. But you have raised a much more interesting question which, coincidentally, Helen Wang and I were discussing with Eric Abrahamsen when we compiled this list....what [not] to include? It so happened that there were some non-contemporary works that appeared in translation this year so we did discuss where we should draw the line - we did not find the three you mention, so did not deliberately exclude them as being too ancient! There were also children's books - and we excluded only one, a bilingual picture book. Literary non-fiction - mainly blog and essay collections - has made it onto the list in the past, and no doubt will do this coming year. I excluded an economics book I translated, but what about something like 'China Along the Yellow River' - sociology, but arguably literary non-fiction - if something like that were to come up again? I think your phrase 'contemporary fiction and poetry by living or recently deceased writers' sums up what we would always include, but the edges are distinctly blurred.

NICKY HARMAN, December 30, 2014, 10:25a.m.

# 2.   

Ha, I thought the same thing when I saw this. There we were wondering if translations of pre-1949 literature were appropriate for the site, and here comes Lucas with some Bronze-Age perspective.

Sometimes I think we should just throw the doors open -- there can't have been that many translations of Chinese literature over the ages, after all. Then I think of the Daode Jing, supposedly the second-most translated work in human history after the Bible, and I suspect my poor database would fall over.

Eric Abrahamsen, December 30, 2014, 12:39p.m.

# 3.   

I certainly think we should have as open an attitude about what constitutes "Chinese literature" as possible!

One of the reasons looking at translations of Chinese literature is interesting and important is what it shows in terms of the changing definition of China. Children's literature from China, dissident literature from China, classical literature from China, literature sponsored by the government of China, literature sponsored by the government of the Republic of China, literature written in Chinese from other parts of the world... these are some of the contested terrains of defining China, all of which will tell us something not only about the people we imagine writing the literature, but who we are as readers imagining the China we're translating from.

The same is true of non-literary works. Neither Michael Gibbs Hill's translation of China from Empire to Nation-State by Wang Hui, nor Ge Zhaoguang's Intellectual History of China, translated by Michael Duke, both new this year, showed up on the list--and yet they're among the few books available in which critical theory from China is making its way into English. Certainly that's important to note in coming to terms with the range of definitions of China in English. I mean, what would our notion of French be if Sartre, Barthes, Derrida, and Foucault hadn't been translated, or German without Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud?

As for the database, well, yes, there've been a lot of Laozi translations into English, among other practical considerations. And maybe the main point of the database is so publishers can find translators to give us money to translate things. But I think there are other uses, too--and it's not like we're in any kind of hurry. Over time, we could build a pretty comprehensive database, if we wanted to.


Lucas Klein, December 30, 2014, 3:27p.m.

# 4.   

Yeah, part of me thinks we should just put everything in there, but then make it easier for people to find only the things they're looking for. Actually that goes without saying -- the search/filter functionality of the site is basically nonexistent. But I'm working on it...

Eric Abrahamsen, December 31, 2014, 2:32a.m.

# 5.   

I translated a book that came out last year (, but it didn't fall within the category of Chinese fiction either. It was a self-published translation of a Chinese doctor's diary from an Antarctic expedition. I think the non-fiction list of translations from Chinese would be pretty long, but a lot are collaborative efforts and books published outside the US/UK or outside of the main publishing houses, so they might be harder to track down.

Jeff K, December 31, 2014, 3:56p.m.

# 6.   

I'd be interested to know if anyone is maintaining an online bibliography (all-inclusive or specific) of new works translated from Chinese into English. There are lots of bibliographies online, eg the H-group Buddhism Bibliography Project ( - is there anything like this for Ch>Eng translations?

Helen Wang, January 2, 2015, 1:34p.m.

# 7.   

Also, really exciting news in this category is the forthcoming 2015 University of Washington Press publication of an annotated translation of Zuozhuan by Wai-Yee Li, Stephen Durrant and David Schaberg

Jeff K, January 2, 2015, 3:49p.m.

# 8.   

Thanks Jeff. I'm glad to see that your translation of 'The Top of the Bottom of the World' has a Nook version. ( I have too many books so I tend to get electronic edition whenever possible).

I wonder if I can get a copy and transcode it into Kindle format on my own.

Does anyone know the best way to request a paperback book be available in Kindle and other desirable electronic format? It depends on copyright holder/publisher, presumably?

Susan, September 2, 2016, 3:36p.m.

# 9.   

There's already a Kindle version of Mao Yilei's English translation by Jeffrey Keller. So I am happy and already downloaded my copy. thanks.

susan, September 2, 2016, 3:57p.m.


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